How to Evaluate a Web Source
Web sources vary in quality a great deal. This is because information can be added, updated, and uploaded without being verified by the appropriate authorities. Before consider using a web source in a paper, project, or presentation there are a number of things to consider.
The first variable with be the expecations of your professor. Is your professor looking for cited, scholarly sources? Many professors here at North Central University are looking for quality sources. Many colleges and universities use the acronym AATCF. It stands for Authority, Accuracy, Time, Coverage, and Format.
Determining the authority of any site is vital if you plan to use it as a source for an academic paper or research project.
- Check the URL domain: dot com sites want to sell you something, dot org sites try to sway you to their opinion, dot gov means that it is run by an official state of U.S. government agency, dot edu are educational institutions.
- Who is responsible for the content of the site: is there an "About Us" page? Remember, the Web is a self-publishing medium: anyone can publish anything on the Web.
- Is there a way to verify legitimacy of the individual or organization? Phone numbers? E-mail addresses? Mailing addresses?
Eventually, you will come across information on the Web that is not entirely true. In addition to determining the authority of a site, you also need to determine if it is presenting accurate information.
- Are the sources for any factual information clearly listed so they can be verified in another source? If not, it could be useful as an example of ideas from an individual, but not as a source of factual information. There is a difference between author and webmaster.
- Is there a print equivalent version of the material which would provide a way of verifying its accuracy?
- Are the person's or organization biases clearly stated? How objective is the presentation?
- Is there advertising? Is it clearly labeled so that it can be set apart from the informational content? Are they just trying to sell you something? What kind of ads appear on the site? Evaluating the quality of advertisers on a site can help you evaluate the authority of the contents on the site.
- Are editorials and opinion pieces clearly labeled as such?
- Are the charts/graphs containing statistical data clearly labeled and easy to read? Is it clearly stated where the data was gathered from?
- Is the information free of grammatical, spelling, and other errors? These kinds of errors indicate a lack of quality control, and sometimes can produce inaccuracies in information.
- Is the site complete or still under construction?
- Is the same level of information provided for all sections of the site?
- If there is a print equivalent to the Web site, is there a clear indication of how much of it is on the Web?
- It is frequently difficult to determine the extent of coverage in Web pages. How much information is given, is it weak or comprehensive on factual support?
- What level of user is the information geared to, who is the target audience:general public, children, students, scholar, or scientific?
- Is there a link to a page which describes the coverage of the source?
- Can you access the site with older browser versions? Is there a text only version so that you can still access the text if your browser can't display graphics or read frames?
- Do you need to download free software for enhanced access before you can use the site? Is there a link to the software (such as Acrobat Reader, Java, etc.)?
- If the page requires special software to view the information, how much are you missing if you don't have the software?
- Can you fill out request forms or surveys online and easily transmit the information back to the site?
- Do you need to be a registered user even on a free site? Some businesses provide free information but do not want large numbers of casual surfers, instead preferring a small number of serious, repeat users.
Information on this page was taken from the Worcester State College Library page. For more information please click the link http://wwwfac.worcester.edu/library/electricres/evalweb.htm